New York Biltmore Hotel

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New York Biltmore Hotel
Biltmore-NewYorkCity.jpg
Present-day site of the building
General information
Architectural styleRenaissance Revival
LocationManhattan, New York City
OpenedJanuary 1, 1913
ClosedAugust 14, 1981
Design and construction
ArchitectWarren and Wetmore

The New York Biltmore Hotel was a luxury hotel in New York City that opened in 1913. It was one a series of palatial hotels built as part of the Terminal City development around Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. The others included The Commodore, The Roosevelt and The Barclay. The building was gutted by developers in 1981, stripped down to its steel frame and converted to an office building known first as Bank of America Plaza and more recently as 335 Madison.[1]

History[edit]

The New York Biltmore was constructed jointly by the New York Central Railroad and the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. It was operated by Gustav Baumann, who purchased the lease from the New York State Realty and Terminal Company, a division of the New York Central Railroad. The design was by the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore, which also created the adjoining Grand Central Terminal. The hotel had its own arrival station within the terminal, nicknamed "The Kissing Room," with elevator access to the lobby. A private elevator served only the Presidential Suite. The Tea Room (a.k.a. Palm Court) echoed the design of the Main Concourse at the Terminal. On the 22nd floor of the hotel was the grand ballroom, called the Cascades; Bert Lown was the conductor in the hotel's early years. Between the north and south towers was the Italian Garden, which overlooked Vanderbilt Avenue and Grand Central Terminal. In the winter months the garden was transformed into an ice skating rink.

The hotel opened on New Year's Day 1913, and was operated by Baumann until his death on October 15, 1914.[2] John McEntee Bowman, the Biltmore's manager under Mr. Baumann, took control of the lease and operated the hotel thereafter as part of the Bowman-Biltmore Hotels chain.

In 1915, Henry Ford tried to broker a truce agreement to halt World War I while headquartered at The Biltmore.[3] On August 4, 1916, the Treaty of the Danish West Indies was signed at the hotel, which transferred possession of the Danish West Indies, now the United States Virgin Islands, from Denmark to the United States.[4]

In 1940, the railroad created a holding company called Realty Hotels to operate the Biltmore, Chatham and Park Lane hotels.[5] From May 6 to May 11, 1942, the hotel was the location of the Biltmore Conference, a meeting of Zionist groups that produced the Biltmore Program, a series of demands regarding Palestine.[6]

The Palm Court, 1956

Following the groundbreaking 1969 victory of feminist protests at the nearly Plaza Hotel by Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women, which succeeded in opening the formerly all-male Oak Bar to women, the Biltmore was the scene of further, similar protests.[7] The hotel's Men's Bar had been a male-only establishment since it opened in 1935, with regulars such as New York mayor (and later governor) Al Smith. The bar's male patrons would famously discourage women from entering by staring at any who tried to enter and applauding until they relented and left. After a 1970 court ruling against gender discrimination, women began entering the bar, and in 1972 it was renamed the Biltmore Bar,[8] before closing permanently in 1977.[9]

In 1975, the hotel's legendary Palm Court was restored and remodeled as a bar named "Under the Clock". The name was a nod to the famous expression "Meet me under the clock", which the hotel claimed was inspired by the famous clock at the Palm Court's entrance.[10]

In June 1978, Loews Hotels won a bidding war against a group of Middle Eastern investors, and purchased the Biltmore, the Roosevelt and the Barclay hotels from the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation Company for $55 million. The following month, Loews re-sold the Biltmore and the Roosevelt to developer Paul Milstein for $30 million.[11]

335 Madison, the former Biltmore Hotel building, 2016

In March 1981, Milstein filed plans with the city to gut the hotel and rebuild it as an office building. On July 29, it was announced that a deal had been struck with Bank of America to rent half the building. On July 30 and 31, registered letters were sent to the hotel's residential guests, informing them they would have to move in the near future.[12]

The Biltmore ceased operations without notice on Friday, August 14, 1981, with overnight guests informed that the hotel was closing and permanent residents given 30 days to leave, as demolition crews entered that same day. The first space to be demolished was the Palm Court. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission had been considering giving the hotel's interiors landmark status, particularly the Palm Court. The room's swift destruction ensured that was impossible.[13] The New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Municipal Art Society filed for and received a temporary restraining order that same day, in order to halt the demolition, but the order had no effect on the demolition.

By August 18, the restraining orders had expired or been overruled, and the only remaining public room not yet demolished was the rooftop 19th floor Grand Ballroom.[14] Despite these concerted protests by preservationists,[15] the hotel was stripped down to its steel structural skeleton and converted to an office building.

A deal was struck between the Milsteins and the Landmarks Conservancy to reconstruct the hotel's Palm Court, lobby, and main 43rd Street entrance within the office building. However, in August 1982, the architecture firm responsible for the work, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, resigned, stating that the demolition work had made any re-creation impossible. A settlement was brokered in September 1983, in which the Milsteins contributed $500,000 to a landmarks fund administered by the Conservancy, in exchange for being released from the requirement to build the replica rooms. The Conservancy stated that they had accepted the agreement because the re-created Neo-Renaissance rooms inside the granite and glass office tower would "rightly be perceived by architectural historians and the public at large as resulting in a design that would amount to little more than a caricature."[16] By that point, three floors of the office building were already completed and in use by Bank of America employees. Work was completed in 1984[17] and the building opened as Bank of America Plaza.

Though the bank is still the largest tenant, the building is today known simply by its address, 335 Madison.[18] In 2015, Howard Milstein announced plans to demolish the building and construct a larger office tower.[19] In 2018, the plans were changed to a $150 million renovation of the existing building, adding an atrium lobby.[20]

Grand Central Art Galleries[edit]

For 23 years the Biltmore was the home to the Grand Central Art Galleries, founded in 1922 by Walter Leighton Clark together with John Singer Sargent, Edmund Greacen, and others.[21] Originally in Grand Central Terminal, in 1958 the Galleries moved to the second floor of the Biltmore, where they had six exhibition rooms and an office.[22] The galleries remained at the Biltmore until the structure was stripped to its steel frame and converted into an office building by the Milstein Brothers.[14] The final show was "Anita Loos and Friends." Describing the end of the Biltmore and the Grand Central Art Galleries' final show there, John Russell of New York Times wrote:

"Hardly since Samson tore down the great temple at Gaza has a building disappeared as rapidly as the Biltmore Hotel. But people have shown a rare persistence this last day or two in pushing their way upstairs at the entrance on Vanderbilt Avenue to where the Grand Central Galleries has been holding its own."[23]

Events and media appearances[edit]

The reclusive writer J. D. Salinger would meet William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker, under the Biltmore's lobby clock.[24] It is one of many that claim to be the basis for the expression "Meet me under the clock." The office building retains the hotel's famous piano and lobby clock.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1920 short story "May Day", a main character, Edith, continually asserts that she is staying at the Biltmore. Fitzgerald seems to deliberately associate the Biltmore with Jazz Age luxury and lifestyle.

Author Frank McCourt began work in the Biltmore shortly after returning to live in New York in 1949. He recounts his experiences there in his second memoir 'Tis.

In the 1950 Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, the gamblers are desperately searching for a location for their illegal crap game. In the song "The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York)," Nicely-Nicely Johnson sings: "The Biltmore garage wants a grand [$1,000], but we ain't got a grand on hand."[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "335 Madison".
  2. ^ "Gustav Baumann Falls to Death". The New York Times. October 15, 1914.
  3. ^ Hill, Frank Ernest; Nevins, Allan (February 1958). "Henry Ford And His Peace Ship". American Heritage. Retrieved April 4, 2020.
  4. ^ "U.S. Takes possession of Danish West Indies, March 31, 1917". Politico.
  5. ^ "THREE HOTELS GROUPED; Realty Hotels, Inc., to Run Park Lane, Chatham, Biltmore". The New York Times. August 7, 1940.
  6. ^ "The Biltmore Conference (1942)".
  7. ^ ""No Unescorted Ladies Will be Served"". 20 March 2019.
  8. ^ "Biltmore Closes Cafe Fanny, Men's Bar Successor". The New York Times. April 15, 1979.
  9. ^ "It's All Over for the Biltmore Bar". The New York Times. July 1, 1977.
  10. ^ "The Hot L Biltmore". New York. February 17, 1975.
  11. ^ "3 Prominent Midtown Hotels Sold; 2 May Be Turned Into Apartments". The New York Times. July 29, 1978.
  12. ^ Haden-Guest, Anthony (September 7, 1981). "Last Dance at The Biltmore". New York.
  13. ^ "Biltmore Closes, Surprising Guests". The New York Times. August 16, 1981.
  14. ^ a b Dunlap, David W. (August 19, 1981). "Retaining Order to Block Biltmore Demolition Expires". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "Milstein Opens Throttle as Builder". The New York Times. October 18, 1981.
  16. ^ "Developer Won't Recreate Part of Biltmore Palm Court". The New York Times. September 30, 1983.
  17. ^ "SHoP Architects reveal 'vertical tech campus' at 335 Madison | 6sqft".
  18. ^ Pincus, Adam (April 23, 2009). "CBRE takes over leasing at quarter-vacant 335 Madison Avenue". The Real Deal.
  19. ^ "Vanderbilt corridor set for massive new tower". 4 March 2015.
  20. ^ "SHoP Architects reveal 'vertical tech campus' at 335 Madison | 6sqft".
  21. ^ "Painters and Sculptors' Gallery Association to Begin Work," New York Times, December 19, 1922
  22. ^ "Galleries to End 36 Years in Depot". The New York Times. October 31, 1958.
  23. ^ Russell, John (August 28, 1981). "Art: Things That Can Happen to a Print". The New York Times.
  24. ^ McGrath, Charles (January 28, 2010). "J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91". The New York Times.
  25. ^ "The Oldest Established", from Lyrics Mania.

Sources[edit]

  • Architectural Record Volume 35 Jan-June 1914 Architectural Institute of America.
  • "Mr. Baumann Falls to Death" 1914 New York Times Article Google.
  • "Under the Biltmore Clock" article Life Magazine April 21, 1952 Google.
  • Time /CNN archive /Google/ Business: Hotels / "United and Bowman Biltmore merger" 03/04/1929.
  • "On-Line News Hour with Frank McCourt" March 17, 1999.
  • "Landmark Group Plans uses for Biltmore Funds" New York Times October 6, 1983.
  • "Remembering Lunch at The Biltmore 1959" New Yorker Magazine Jan.17,2005.
  • "Paul Milstein dies at age 88" New York Times Obituaries August 9, 2010.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°45′13″N 73°58′41″W / 40.75361°N 73.97806°W / 40.75361; -73.97806